People were astounded when Apple released the iPad 2 within a year of the iPad’s debut. They are further confused as the new iPhone 5 is expected and could be accompanied by a free iPhone – the 3GS. There is even talk of an iPad 3 before the year is out. What is going on here?
Apple needs to release new products on a regular basis for the simple reason that Apple makes a fashion statement as much as it makes a technology statement.
The fact that technology has become fashion and that technology cycles are now driven by fashion timescales is a logical consequence of the consumerization of technology. See “Powershift! The darker side of consumer IT”
Any company seeking to create techno-fashionation has to keep the market’s attention based on consumer wants and needs more than technology features and functions. That means a constant cycle of a select set of breakthrough features coupled with a constant stream if incremental upgrades.
A few thoughts about what that entails include:
- Technology is a platform for the customer experience delivered via software and continually enhanced by someone else. Apple and Android seek to remain relevant during the year via the media and applications offered on their ‘stores.’ The recent announcement of the i-Cloud services is a play to retain customers, keep them engaged and provide a daily dividend for their continued use of their product.
- Technology must make the consumer look good and feel good about themselves and in front of others. That means that the techno-fashion needs to be visible, in contrast to Arthur C. Clarkes view of technology as magic. That was the original reason why Apple has and continues to brand around its particular shade of white.
- Technology must change in noticeable ways rapidly enough for people to get a bump from being seen as early adopters. For the iPad 2 that difference came in terms of the products weight, cameras, etc.
- The cost of upgrade, switching within your product set must be low. But the cost of switching to someone else’s product does not have to be insurmountable. This lowers the degree of relative difference needed between products and platforms creating a stream of innovations and value rather than disruptive step functions.
I am sure there are other rules, but compromising them moves your product from fashion to being functional. Samsung, LG, and the raft of Android smartphone makers get this from a functional perspective, but they are hampered by a cycle driven by Android releases. Non-Android or Apple platforms have fallen into this trap as they may be technically excellence but increasingly fashion irrelevant.
That is why Apple, who controls both the hardware and the software needs to produce new releases at a seemingly relentless pace. When they do not, their technology goes from an object of notice to an everyday device and who wants to pay a premium for something that has become average?
The iPad 2 is a good example of this. Recently I have been flying around Asia, Australia and Europe and the iPad 2 is now ubiquitous. It used to be just the professionals and young that had them, but on a recent flight in Australia I looked across the rows and a majority of people were using iPads – its become common in less than two months!
Techno-fashion becomes a cultural conversation more than a stream of innovation as companies seek to stay at the forefront and that means having something new to say all the time by thinking about the following things:
- Speed keeps the cool from becoming common.
- Highly visible technology innovations are worth more than invisible technology advances
- To remain cool, Marketing cannot rule the conversation
- You have to change the terms of the conversation constantly
- Cool flows from one thing to another; so go with the flow rather than trying to divert the stream of value.
When these new products are announced think about how they are intended to join the conversation, change the vocabulary, alter relative values or capabilities in the marketplace.
When you hear people praise technical innovation of one product over another that has greater market/attention share, see that as a sign of people not recognizing that engineering prowess no longer makes the day. Neither does marketing sophistication, by the way, but it’s a combination that is required to keep your platform and product front and center in the conversation.
Verizon, the US cellular phone company, has seen smart phone cycles shrink from an average of one year to less than 8 months! That is why Apple, Android and the like will continue to announce and release new products on a consumer rather than technology basis. Because it is not about the technology, it is about the consumer conversation.
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